For the past couple of months, on my Virginia radio appearances, with a very conservative audience I've stayed away from our political divisions. Besides its being bruising to deal with them, I also wanted to wait a bit after the elections to see how the political forces were playing out. And someone I respect had counseled me that it was perhaps a good time to let the Bushite supporters "go to sleep." So I've done programs that explore questions that bring us together in our common humanity.
But now I'm ready to go back into the bruising business of trying to talk across polarized America's Great Divide. One big reason for this is that the ways in which the old Bushite practice of truth-obscuring continues to operate have become more visible, and not just to operate but to have their familiar destructive impact. It is clear that the Republicans in Congress are still willing, in large measure, to stay in line behind their Bushite overlords, saying whatever falsehoods will serve the their masters' power. And it is clear that the Democrats in Congress remain afraid of the power of Rovian propaganda to injure and defeat them.
The place where the evidence of The Lie's persistent power is recently most evident is, of course, the ongoing wrangling over the war in Iraq. And, accordingly, it is regarding this war-related crop of lies that I am going to go into battle when I do my next radio show in Virginia, two and a half weeks from now.
Here is my current thinking of how I am going to frame that show. I would be glad for any help in strengthening my command of the facts, and the structuring of my arguments.
Please recall that the target audience for these arguments consists of those in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia who support the Bushites, who are the ones most likely to call in to take me on, with my concern directed especially toward those in the middle who are hovering between accepting and rejecting this president and his policies.
Bogus Argument # 1: "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here."
Even putting aside the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who are fighting American troops over there are Iraqi Sunnis who have nothing to do with the "them" --the Al Qaeda terrorists whom we don't want to have to fight here, this argument still makes no sense at all.
The implication is that WE have THEM pinned down in Iraq, preventing them from coming over here. The truth is just the opposite. It is WE who are pinned down, and it is THEY who make the choice where to fight us. If the relatively few foreign fighters in Iraq wanted to fight us over here, nothing the U.S. military is doing in Iraq is preventing them from doing so. All this war in Iraq has done is to provide them an unusually good opportunity to strike at American forces.
(I wrote an article along these lines: "GOP Nonsense: Fighting Them Over There So We Don't Have to Fight them Here at Home" at www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=353.)
Whatever legitimate arguments there may be for "fighting them over there," the idea that we're keeping them away from our shores is not one of them.
Bogus Argument # 2: "To support the troops, everybody has to support their mission."
Is anyone really going to argue that no matter what the circumstances, no matter what kind of mission any president might ever send American troops on, what the troops would want from the American people and from their representatives in Congress is their wholehearted and unquestioning support to the mission on which they've been sent? Could it never be that the most important way of supporting the troops is to save them from being on a mission that is not worth their sacrifice?
The argument makes no sense-- at least not on its own terms. It makes sense only as a way of using the troops not for the sake of the troops but to protect the president from criticism, to give the president unquestioned power.
In that way, this argument is downright unAmerican. It goes contrary to the whole nature and spirit of American democracy. Ours is a country in which debate and deliberation are the heart and soul of our political process, and it is a valuable part of our history that some of our greatest leaders --like Abraham Lincoln during the war with Mexico-- have called ongoing military operations into question when they ran counter to the values our country is supposed to stand for.
Those who seek to squelch debate over our most vital national issues --hiding behind our troops, or questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with them-- either do not understand what democracy is about or do not believe in democracy.
That also goes for Bogus Argument, # 2-b: "People who question the mission are demoralizing the troops."
Can you not conceive of times when it is the mission that is demoralizing the troops, and that it is those who would bring them hope who give them heart?
If one can conceive of such a circumstance, then it would follow that we can only judge what "supports the troops" by looking at the particular circumstances and the particular mission, and judging what the real needs and desires of the troops are. With the way these troops have been dragooned into extensive service with one enforced tour of duty following another-who wants to bet that the troops feel supported by the "surge" more than by the questions raised about the value of extending their mission?
Besides that, if all we needed to judge --in matters of war and peace-- is what is best for the troops, WE WOULD NEVER GO TO WAR, would we? We send troops into harm's way not for the troops' sake, but because it serves the interests and values of the nation-- or at least that's supposed to be the reason.
Likewise, when it comes to the question of war and peace when we're already engaged in a war, how appropriate is it for our leaders to use the alleged needs of the troops apparently to prevent a discussion of what really serves the interests and values of our country?
Bogus Argument # 3: "Anyone who talks about defunding the war is willing to jeopardize the troops."
Let us set aside the fact that a great many of the Republicans in Congress who make this argument that it is some kind of sin for Congress to withdraw funding for a military operation as the same people who argued that it was right and proper, in 1993, to do so. Back then, American military operations were ongoing in Somalia, and these same Republicans had no qualms then about imposing their judgment on the president by exercising the congressional power of the purse. [Someplace, I've seen a compendium of quotes from these GOP lawmakers arguing for the appropriateness, in 1993, of the very thing they condemn now. Does anyone know where that can be found?]
And let's leave aside the growing mountain of evidence that the same people who try to use the rallying cry about "protecting the troops" to silence and paralyze their critics have also amassed a shameful record of neglecting those troops --whether it be through the ongoing failure to provide them with adequate armor or through the recently-reported substandard care being given to so many of our returning wounded soldiers from Iraq.
(This apparent hypocrisy --this fervent invocation of the troops to protect the policy, combined with an apparent indifference to the actual welfare of the troops-- only serves to bring into sharper relief how the modus operandi of these leaders is consistently to provide the American people some emotionally-evocative reasons for us to support what they want to do for their own different, power-oriented purposes. Isn't that how they got us into the war in the first place, "fixing" the intelligence and cultivating our fears so that we'd support their taking us into their war so very different from the one they sold us?)
But even in the absence of these clues as to the dishonesty of this campaign, would we not be able to tell just on the face of it that this argument simply does not hold water?
To believe that defunding the war means endangering the troops would require us to believe that the United States military is incapable of folding up an operation and re-deploying its forces in a manner that protects its people on the ground. Does anyone actually believe that the military is unable to do such a thing? Does anyone actually believe that the only way that the troops can be protected is by continuing to pursue the war policies that have killed and wounded so many of them already-- all apparently without achieving much of anything to justify the enormous sacrifice?
Which brings us to the final bogus argument.
Bogus Argument # 4: "America cannot afford to fail in Iraq, and people who talk of stopping short of success are 'defeatists.'"
One important part of this argument is correct: an American failure in Iraq is indeed profoundly injurious to the interests and standing of the United States in the vital Persian Gulf region and, beyond that, globally.
But this argument can serve as a critique of those challenging the present policy only if the American effort in Iraq has not already failed.
But what reason do we have to believe that? The bi-partisan Iraq Study Group (under James Baker and Lee Hamilton), authorized and then later ignored by the president, said that nothing like "victory" is now possible in Iraq.
If success is not now an option in this venture, what sense does it make to say that "failure is not an option"?
And what if success, while not a total impossibility, is only extremely unlikely? How unlikely does it have to be for it to be folly to continue pursuing it as the costs --in blood and treasure and reputation and strategic position-continue to mount? As far as I've been able to tell, judging from the assessments of those experts who are not under the employ of this administration, the situation in Iraq is already a disaster and quote unlikely to become anything else in any foreseeable future, regardless of how long we drag out American involvement.
In poker, a player that "throws good money after bad" is considered a fool. There's always the possibility that one might draw two cards to fill an inside straight, but no good poker player would bet more money in order to try it. We don't call a poker player who folds with a bad hand "defeatist." What sense does it make to call those Americans "defeatists" who see the reality as the experts do, and call for policies that take that unhappy reality into account.
(I develop the critique of this argument further in an earlier essay, "Know When to Hold 'Em, When to Fold 'Em," at www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=421.)
At the very least, anyone who makes such an argument should be required to present a convincing, fact-based reason for believing that persisting on this till-now-disastrous course gives good promise of achieving something of substantial value-- something, that is, besides allowing a leadership that has bungled this whole operation to delay the inevitable confrontation with the reality of their blunders and misdeeds and misjudgments. And the people still talking about "success" and "victory" have made no such argument.
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)